Volume 17, Number 49 | April 29 — May 05, 2005

Want change? Elect more moms to Congress

By Jane Flanagan

I think we mothers need to do something here. Most of us are so busy running our families we are not keeping track of what’s going on in Washington. Did you know that terrorist attacks increased four fold last year? Me neither. It was days before I caught on to the State Department’s report that there were 625 “significant” terrorist attacks worldwide in 2004. That compares to 175 in 2003. The Bush administration’s solution? Stop issuing the report.

I’m singling mothers out, because we have more than just ourselves to worry about. Many of us in Lower Manhattan are 9/11 mothers, too. I also single us out, because women seem to be in very short supply down in Washington. I can’t help but think that if a few more moms were in key Congressional positions things could not have gotten so out of hand.

But, 40 years after the start of the women’s movement, we have not significantly infiltrated the governing elite. And that’s because we are mothers. Women now hold more professional jobs than ever before, but maintaining them, while also keeping our children and families whole, is difficult, sometimes impossible. And that’s because we get no help from the government.

I recently spoke with a friend, a working mother, who lived in Europe when her daughters were babies. After an appropriate maternity leave she returned to the office and her child went to an affordable, government-subsidized, quality neighborhood daycare. Two nutritious meals a day were served.

Here in America, working mothers find that quality babysitters are not cheap, sometimes earning nearly what the mother does. As for daycare, that, too, is expensive and not easy to find. And mom is packing those two meals a day.
The demands at the office are also greater in America. If you are married to a man who must work 60-plus hours a week (as many do) you can’t also do that. Well you could, but many women aren’t willing to. Hired help (assuming you can afford it) can do a lot, but they can’t keep a family intact. And if you aren’t willing to put in that kind of time, you aren’t going to get close to power.

Meanwhile, instead of making things better for us, ultra-conservatives have been moving to make things harder. Take a new book published by Sentinel, a division of Penguin Group that promotes conservative books. Didn’t know major publishing houses had such imprints? Me neither. (Like I said, we’ve been busy.) The book is Mary Eberstadt’s “Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes.” Eberstadt argues that the evils befalling children – illness, disobedience, aggression and drug use, can be traced to daycare and mothers who work.

And don’t look to the media to bail us out either. The other night I saw an episode of the Fox reality show, “The Nanny 911.” This series selects a new dysfunctional family each week and sends a nanny in to fix them. This home had 5-year-old quadruplets and a 6-year-old who terrorized them. The mother was sullen, angry and screamed all the time. But I wondered about when those quadruplets were born. No doubt the media covered the births. But did anyone ever question how one woman could possibly manage four babies and a 1-year-old? Another woman watching this with me said, “When I had my daughter I remember wishing I would have twins. Then I had her.” Exactly. But the quads’ mom ends up on a reality show for all of us to laugh at.

Fortunately, there are at least a few people out there focusing on what matters. A new book by D.C.-based writer and mother, Judith Warner, for instance. A Newsweek article reporting on Warner’s book, “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety,” summarizes her ideas: “Tax subsidies to encourage corporations to adopt family-friendly policies; government-mandated child-care standards and quality controls; flexible vouchers or bigger tax credits to make child care more affordable.”

Sounds like a good start to me. Anybody listening?

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